The Evil within - A motif analysis on Shakespeare´s 'Macbeth'


Term Paper, 2008

17 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Excerpt

Table of Contents:

1. Introduction:

2. The Evil:
2.1. The Evil in Etymological and Semantical Perspective:
2.2. The Faces of the Evil or the Unseizable Horror:
2.3. The Other versus the I:

3. Text Analysis:
3.1. The Rise and Fall of Macbeth:
3.1.1 Act I (p. 95-121):
3.1.2 Act V (p. 193-211): a brutal monster or just a pitiable victim?:

4. Conclusion:

Bibliographie:

Primary Literature:

Secondary Literature:

1. Introduction:

Roy F. Baumeister maintains in his magnum opus 'Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence'[1] that the “[e]vil is always ready and waiting to burst into the world“.[2] At first glance this statement seems exaggerated and entirely pessimistic. But today´s news demonstrate that Baumeister´s statement reflects reality: nearly every day, newspapers and TV report about death, brutal crimes, gang violence, rape victims and natural disasters. Although the evil has different faces and differs in its dimensions, it always goes along with two core aspects: harm and chaos, which cause a breakdown of the stable, peaceful and rational patterns of the ordinary life (cf. Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 5 and 69). While, on the one hand, the victims suffer, the perpetrators on the other hand derive pleasure from causing harm. Not rarely the question rises: What made these people turn to the dark and evil side?

A prominent literary example of this phenomena is Shakespeare´s tragedy Macbeth[3]. Not only can the tragedy be seen as a setting of different degrees of the evil, it also reflects how ordinary people turn to the evil side. Therefore, the question: how does the protagonist Macbeth turn evil? will be the object of investigation.

The following chapter sheds light on the evil: first, in an etymological and a semantical perspective; second, by definition, trying to give a complex image of the evil. In a third step, a popular belief that the evil is associated with the phenomena of the Other will be disproved. Instead, this work supports the opinion that the evil is rooted in everyone of us and waits to be activated. All in all, chapter two functions as a theoretical basis for the text analysis.

The third chapters examines the play: it centers around the character of Macbeth and portrays his rise and fall by analysing the contrasting acts I and V. All things considered, the desired goal of this chapter is to emphasise that Macbeth is not an entirely evil character. Moreover, it is important to note that the characters of the weird sisters will not be analysed in an own section. Although they are a spawn of the evil, they will not be examined in detail, because they are supernatural apparitions and thus, out of reach for a rational explanation. Finally, the character of Lady Macbeth and her personal nightmare will also not be analysed in on section. The work will exclusively shed light on the male character.

2. The Evil:

2.1. The Evil in Etymological and Semantical Perspective:

Evil is defined in relation to good, as its opposite.

(Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 67)

Annemarie Pieper ´s opus 'Gut und Böse'[4] points out that people seldom use the adjective/noun evil in their everyday speech. People rather speak of a bad person or a cruel deed (cf. Pieper, Gut und Böse 11). But why are people afraid of using this word? The answer is simple: because evil is such a strong and utmost negative word. Drawing the conclusion that somebody is evil, implies an immovable statement. Thus, one assumes that a perpetrator acted intentionally the way he did, striving for a destructive goal (cf. Pieper, Gut und Böse 11). In order to categorize the word, Pieper concludes that the evil and its counterpart the good belong to the „Sprachspiel der Moral“.[5]

This moral connotation can be traced back to the early word forms: evil (OE yfel) and cognates like the Dutch euvel and the German übel are surveyed to come from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic form * ubilaz or rather the Proto-Indo-European form * wap- plus zero-grade form *up-elo-. Moreover, Germanic forms such as ME uvel OHG ubil, uphil or OS ubil refer to the root up (over). Being considered from this point of view, the root up means 'exceeding due measure' or 'overstepping proper limits'.[6] Therefore, the adjective evil is defined as 'the antithesis of GOOD in all its principal senses' or a little more detailed 'morally depraved, bad, wicked, vicious'. Then, the noun is simply defined as 'that which is evil ' (cf. The Oxford English Dictionary 471).

2.2. The Faces of the Evil or the Unseizable Horror:

“[E]vil is in the eye of the beholder.“

(Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 4)

When do we have the right to call somebody evil ? Whom can we accuse of having an evil character? The fact that “[t]he prototypes of human evil involve actions that intentionally harm other people[.]“[7] is without a doubt a core aspect. But there is ample reason to criticise that this crucial point does not satisfy the evil´s different faces and its allurement. Indeed, there must be something different in an evil person´s way of thinking, in his self-performance and in his character which makes other people shiver. This chapter introduces different and contradictory opinions about the face of the evil. Its desired goal is to point out core aspects that result in a complex image of the evil when they are composited.

Annemarie Pieper calls somebody evil if he is a radical individualist who desires something unique and beyond compare. In order to satisfy his interests and wishes, he abuses his environment and fellow creatures (cf. Pieper, Gut und Böse 8). Other popular images of the evil “feature wicked, malicious, sadistic perpetrators inflicting senseless harm on innocent well-meaning victims[.]“[8] Contrary to popular belief, Hannah Arendt[9] portrays an evil person as modest and inconspicuous. She maintains that an evil person covers himself with the mask of an average human being. She call this phenomena 'die Banalität des Bösen'.

These different opinions emphasize that “[t]here is a wide variation in the use and definition of the word evil “.[10] So far, a first result of this analysis is that “evil is in the eye of the beholder“.[11] A second result is that the word implies several ideas and opinions. Thus, one cannot form the plural of the word evil because the word itself already combines several aspects that are considered as evil.[12] But still the question is: what is the evil ?

Roy F. Baumeister summarizes different images and ways people think of the evil. The result of his research study is a survey, including eight core aspects of the pure evil. His results will be presented in short:

- first:“evil involves the intentional infliction of harm on people “.[13] Given that, the intermediate result that evil is in the eye of the beholder needs to be modified: evil is in the eye of a person who suffered harm (cf. Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 72). Furthermore, an important aspect is that the suffering is intentional. To make matter worse, “[e]vil seeks harm and does it deliberately“.[14]
- second,“evil is driven primarily by the wish to inflict harm merely for the pleasure of doing so “.[15] This aspect is very important because it points to the conclusion that the evil´s motive force is being sadistic.
- third,“the victim is innocent and good “.[16] Above all, Hollywood productions and also literature work with this image. The aim is to highlight that cruel deeds can happen to anyone of us.
- fourth,“evil is the other, the enemy, the outsider, the out-group “.[17] This image oscillates around the conflict “of us against them “.[18]

- fifth,“evil has been that way since time immemorial “.[19] The evil exists from the very beginning, entering the world with the fall of mankind.[20] Since then, it has been steady and remained unchanged.

- sixth,“evil represents the antithesis of order, peace, and stability [.]“[21] or to put it another way: evil is simply total chaos.

- seventh, “evil characters are often marked by egotism “.[22] To share a widespread and traditional opinion, violence is linked to low self-esteem. Contrary to this point of view, Baumeister points out that the opposite is true. He says “[w]hen self-esteem rises, violence rises too“.[23] Therefore we can conclude, that an evil character has a high self-esteem which tends to overestimation. Furthermore, ambition, indestructible confidence and arrogance rounds off the image.

- finally,“evil figures have difficulty maintaining control over their feelings, especially rage and anger “.[24] This last aspect is vague and there may be some exceptions who act coldly calculating.

Admittedly, this picture of the evil is in some ways oversimplified and idealised and there might be some exceptions. Nevertheless, Baumeister portrays a complex image of the evil, trying to present its different faces. Admittedly, Macbeth seems to fit in these images but this will not be the object of investigation. What is more interesting is the question: how can it be possible to that an honourable man like Macbeth turns evil?

2.3. The Other versus the I:

To understand evil, we must set aside the comfortable belief that we would never do anything wrong.

(Baumeister, Evil Inside Human cruelty and Violence 5)

[...]


[1] Roy F. Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence (New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1997).

[2] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 14.

[3] William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Macbeth, The Oxford Shakespeare Macbeth, ed. Nicholas Brooke (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

[4] Annemarie Pieper, Gut und Böse (München: Beck, 1997).

[5] Pieper, Gut und Böse 15.

[6] The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1989 2).

[7] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 8.

[8] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 17.

[9] Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem. Ein Bericht über die Banalität des Bösen (München: Piper, 1986).

[10] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 6.

[11] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 4.

[12] Cf. Carsten Colpe, Schmidt-Biggemann, W. (Ed.), Das Böse. Eine historische Phänomenologie des Unerklärlichen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1993) 13.

[13] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 72.

[14] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 72.

[15] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 73.

[16] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 73.

[17] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 73.

[18] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 73.

[19] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 74.

[20] Cf. Rüdiger Safranski, Das Böse oder das Drama der Freiheit (München: Carl Hanser, 1997) 29.

[21] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 74.

[22] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 74.

[23] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 140.

[24] Baumeister, Evil inside Human Cruelty and Violence 74.

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Details

Title
The Evil within - A motif analysis on Shakespeare´s 'Macbeth'
College
University of Mannheim
Grade
1,7
Author
Year
2008
Pages
17
Catalog Number
V118238
ISBN (eBook)
9783640209279
File size
413 KB
Language
English
Tags
Evil, Shakespeare´s, Macbeth
Quote paper
Sebastian Zilles (Author), 2008, The Evil within - A motif analysis on Shakespeare´s 'Macbeth', Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/118238

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